Back in the day, playing was something kids did themselves, no parental supervision or planning required. Those were the good old the days...
Last year our family managed to snatch up a Nintendo Wii, instantly
adding dragon-slaying, light-sabering and guitar-shredding to our
household's menu of entertainment options.
Or maybe the playset did it. We recently bought a play
structure outfitted with a tire swing, a ball pit and a spinning
contraption called the Rollicking Roundabout that generates enough
G-force to turn a child's facial muscles into undulating putty.
Or maybe it's the snacks. While we try to limit between-meal
feedings, the truth is we're pretty fast and loose with the juice
boxes, power bars and veggie chips.
The fact is our house is now a veritable wonderland for the
under-10 set. We've got an arcade, a playground and enough grab-and-go
foodstuffs to fuel hour-upon-hour of freewheeling fun.
should come as no surprise then, that we've become prime targets for a
new maneuver in the increasingly complicated free-for-all of working
families: the playdate dump, or as my wife and I have come to call it,
The plump starts with a phone call, usually in those weary
late night hours after the kids are down and parents are faced with
improvising a childcare plan around an unexpected business trip, a sick
nanny or a yoga class. Might our kids enjoy some quality time with
Tyler, Frankie or Isabelle? Might we welcome a playdate at 8 am, say,
or if it's not too much trouble, 7?
All of which should be easy enough to coordinate. But
inevitably it isn't, drop-off and pick-up times must be agreed upon,
emergency phone numbers exchanged, activities planned.
Catering for the perfect playdate
One online parenting guide suggests a detailed pre-playdate discussion
of birth order (only children tend to be "clingy") and differing
approaches to conflict resolution. Parents, the guide suggests, would
do well to follow a nine-point plan for Planning the Perfect Playdate,
turning what should be an uncomplicated arrangement into a process akin
to tax preparation.
Then there's the whole question of food, as the father of two
boys with severe dairy allergies, I am not one to complain about
parents dictating what their children eat while out of the house. But
does that mean I must cheerfully cater to the kid who refuses to eat
anything but kosher hot dogs and Fuji apple slices?
It's not that I dislike having a house filled with kids. I'm a
work-at-home dad, so I naturally welcome any excuse to drop what I
should be doing for a few hours of parental supervision, especially
when that means demonstrating my truly awesome skills at Guitar Hero III.
The simpler days
I myself spent a great deal of my childhood raiding my friend's
refrigerators, wearing out my friend's toys and, in one memorable
episode, setting a neighbour's lawn on fire with a model rocket stuffed
Of course it was all so much simpler then, back in the bygone
days when playsets were found in parks, video games in arcades and a
playdate meant riding your bike over to a neighbour's house while our
dads were at work and mom was off watching Dick Cavett and drinking
Play was something we kids did ourselves, no parental supervision or planning required.
Becoming the plumper
for the harried, two-income family of today it's impossibly more
complicated. A single week at our house typically includes the usual
tangle of deadlines and meetings, plus after-school enrichment
programs, piano and fencing classes, a teacher conference and the
occasional field trip. Add an extra kid or two into the mix and the
system overloads. The trouble isn't the play. It's the date.
Lately, though, I've come to embrace an ingenious solution to
the inevitable conflicts in our increasingly hectic agenda. My eldest
son has a friend with two video game consoles and a mind-boggling
collection of Legos. My daughter has a classmate whose parents are even
faster and looser with snacks than we are. My wife and I recently had
plans to get away for the weekend. With a few strained late night phone
calls, we managed to arrange two days of guilt-free (and, well, free)
I know the drill. That's right, I'm now a plumper.
Does your family do playdates? Do they help or hinder your life?